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Choosing hotels defines European holiday: to spa or not, Marriott fits the bill

Planning a European holiday takes time and luck. Especially if spa access is a priority.

Finding the combination of fitness, fun, and history on a budget isn't easy. Especially now at peak season. While major brands such as Hilton, Sheraton, and Westin offer lots of options, what's available mid-price?

Marriott.

Today's crowded hotel scene is dominated by eponymous branding. But one brand stands out for quality services: Marriott.

My recent trip to Munich, Germany, illustrates this point.

First, the flight. Instead of heading into a crowded international terminal, smaller Munich offers non-stop service with minimal requirement for formalities. Sure there are problems like the use of bus transport between plane and terminal. But unless your transfer time is tight, that's made up for by short lines to stamp passports. Then pick up your luggage and go.

The signs for bus departure directed me into a long corridor where some sort of ticket sales desk was expected. Nothing. So onto a loading area where multiple bus lines departed. Which one was the Lufthansa City Bus? After searching, I asked an airport employee who happened to pass by. "Over there," he said, pointing me to a single station apart from the other bus stops. How was I to know?

Look again; small signs were attached to each stop. But this being oh-so-perfect Germany, the City Bus had none. And no bus was in sight. Finally, after about 10 minutes, one showed up. The driver took my luggage and handed me a bottle of cold water. That was the nicest greeting.

Next, my destination. There are several Marriott hotels in the city. Mine was at the first stop approaching the city.Again the driver extended a small curtesy by pulling up to a pathway where I could walk to the hotel. The area was green, quiet and free of traffic. Not at all what I expected. But there it was: The Marriott Munchen.

Lesson #1: Location. Being outside a city's historic center, hotels and corporate towers often mix with residential developments. Check for transport to city center.

Lesson #2: Transport Downtown. Thanks to a convenient underground transport system, my excursions were easy to plan. A single-day or three-day ticket sold at the hotel needed to be stamped once, at the trip's beginning.

As the Bavarian capital, Munich grew in stately style. The area around Odeonplatz has numerous attractions, including the Residenz of the royal family, and the Bavarian State Opera, where I was fortunate to attend a performance. Then back home a few stops, exiting where I could see the Marriott sign.

Lesson #3: Size. Built for meetings, this Marriott had 347 rooms and suites but only six floors. The glass-walled lobby connects a restaurant and Champions sports bar with an outdoor beer garden. My visit coincided with world soccer championships, so video sets were added in the lobby bar, creating a lively, noisy, scene.

Spas and health clubs come in many sizes, but I was not prepared for the complete facilities at Munchen Marriott. In addition to treatment rooms there was a swimming pool and fitness center. Just what I needed to recuperate from jet lag. An hour-long massage relaxed me for the evening.

Hosting this daily scene is a Washingtonian, Erich Zuri, whose mix of business and pleasure makes Munich a delightful visit. On a short drive through the Schwabbing area we saw vast parkland dotted with swimming pools. Homes in this highly desirable area are small, tightly controlled. We found an old beer garden serving Sunday dinner, an appropriate ending for my visit.

Next: Therme hot springs